- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Democratic lawmaker is aiming to force Maryland’s small businesses to pay a minimum level of employee health benefits, expanding the so-called “Wal-Mart tax” to nearly every business in the state.

The bill by Delegate James W. Hubbard, Prince George’s Democrat, would require businesses with fewer than 10,000 employees to spend 4.5 percent of payroll on employee health care or pay an equivalent amount to the state’s Medicaid program. Nonprofit businesses with fewer than 10,000 employees would have to spend 3 percent or give the money to Medicaid.

The proposal closely resembles the bill Democrats passed this year over the veto of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. It requires businesses with more than 10,000 employees to pay 8 percent of payroll on employee health benefits or pay it to Medicaid. Wal-Mart is the only business in the state that doesn’t comply.

However, the governor warned that the Wal-Mart bill was the first step toward a government-run, taxpayer-funded health system.

An Ehrlich spokesman said the prediction was rapidly coming true.

“The Maryland General Assembly has put virtually every small business in the cross hairs for a new tax,” spokesman Henry P. Fawell said. “Politicians are picking the winners and losers in the marketplace. … It is government-run health care.”

Schaefer says …

It wasn’t the first time William Donald Schaefer’s words have gotten him in trouble, and it probably won’t be the last.

But last week the Maryland comptroller got caught ogling a young woman on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s staff during a Board of Public Works meeting.

Two days later, Mr. Schaefer sent a letter to the woman, telling her, “Sorry you were put thru this ordeal!” and complimenting her for handling the resulting flap “as a trooper.”

Mr. Schaefer said he did not intentionally embarrass Elizabeth Krum when he stared intently at her as she walked away and then asked her to return so he could watch her walk away again.

But his letter Friday stopped short of an apology, and he had told reporters less than two hours before the letter was delivered that he had nothing to apologize for.

Miss Krum had brought Mr. Schaefer a cup of tea Wednesday at the beginning of the board meeting in Annapolis. He watched as she walked away, then summoned her back to the table just as she reached the door.

As the more than 100 people at the meeting watched, Miss Krum returned to the table. “Walk again,” Mr. Schaefer told her, and again watched as she returned to the governor’s office.

He’s 84. She’s 24.

A lovely day

Love was in the air last week at the Virginia General Assembly, and not just because it was Valentine’s Day.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. on Wednesday wed longtime friend Yvonne DeBruyn Weight in a ceremony that looked like a “Who’s Who” of political Virginia.

Mr. Callahan, whose wife of 44 years died last winter, beamed as Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leroy R. Hassell Sr. performed the rite of marriage.

“I haven’t seen Vince smile like that in years,” Delegate Johnny S. Joannou said of his 74-year-old friend.

Justice Hassell called it a “merger of two big hearts” and read from Corinthians.

Finally, Justice Hassell told Mr. Callahan, “Vince, you have my judicial authority to kiss your bride.” The couple leaned in for a double kiss that was captured by news photographers and the official wedding photographer, Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican.

In the crowd were the state’s top leaders, including Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and House Speaker William J. Howell. Mr. Kaine’s father-in-law, former Gov. A. Linwood Holton, was there with his wife, Jinks Holton.

The couple held a reception later at the exclusive Bull and Bear Club in downtown Richmond.

As for a honeymoon, it all depends on whether the legislature can agree on budget spending and transportation tax plans before the scheduled March 11 adjournment.

The couple plans to go to England, but Mr. Callahan said it would be “optimistic” to assume the session will end on time.

There were plenty of laughs at the wedding, including a moment when longtime Republican friends Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell and Delegate David B. Albo walked down the aisle together.

Apprentice fan

Kwame Jackson, the reality-TV celebrity who made his name on “The Apprentice,” is a fan of Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

Mr. Jackson, who has started his own financial-holdings company since his moment in the sun courtesy of Donald Trump, was in Baltimore last week for the seventh annual African-American Business Forum.

At a luncheon Thursday, Mr. Steele, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate seat held by the retiring Paul S. Sarbanes, was honored with a “diversity award” for his office’s role in promoting and helping minority businesses and business leaders.

Mr. Jackson, sitting at a table with Mr. Steele and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, was the only person in the room of 300 people who stood and applauded as Mr. Steele walked to the stage.

Kweisi Mfume, former chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who could be Mr. Steele’s opponent if he wins the Democratic primary, was also at Mr. Jackson’s table.

Mr. Jackson would not go so far as to say who he favors in the race, but said Mr. Steele is “a good guy” who supported Mr. Jackson’s unsuccessful attempt to build a 500-acre, $3 billion housing and retail area in Prince George’s County.

“I think Steele could be a great leader, and I wish him the best,” Mr. Jackson said.

Dropping out

A Democratic running for Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District seat has dropped out of the race.

David Ashe said last week that he is stepping aside because Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has picked him for a position for his new administration. He didn’t specify the position.

Mr. Ashe, a lawyer and Marine veteran who served in Iraq, unsuccessfully ran for the congressional seat two years ago, losing to Republican Thelma Drake.

He said he will support the remaining Democratic challenger, Phillip Kellam, Virginia Beach’s revenue commissioner.

Empty spaces

Elkton, Md., Mayor Joseph Fisona apparently doesn’t follow directions well, at least when it comes to filling out his initial campaign reports.

Documents obtained by the Cecil Whig newspaper show Mr. Fisona provided only his name, address, position with the town and office sought on the disclosure forms, even though instructions on the form say “Do not leave any questions unanswered.”

Left unanswered, however, were questions about property ownership, finances and employment.

“I have a lot on my mind right now, like the town’s sewer-plant upgrade and negotiating with the police union. It’s nothing I did intentionally,” Mr. Fisona told the Whig.

Playing bridge

Maryland Delegate Mary Roe Walkup, Eastern Shore Republican, has written a bill to prevent construction of a third span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Kent County.

Her bill specifically prevents a bridge between Millers Island in Baltimore County and anywhere in Kent County, regardless of which government agency is responsible.

The 23-member Task Force on Traffic Capacity Across the Chesapeake Bay has identified four locations for a new bridge: Baltimore County to Kent County; Anne Arundel County to Queen Anne’s County, home to the Eastern Shore side of the two existing spans; Anne Arundel County or Calvert County to Talbot County; and Calvert County to Dorchester County.

Business cheer

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine urged business leaders in Northern Virginia on Wednesday to help rally support for his transportation package, saying “there is no excuse for inaction” by state lawmakers.

“Tell them, ‘Don’t come home empty-handed,’” Mr. Kaine told about 400 members of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

• Jon Ward, Christina Bellantoni and S.A. Miller contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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